Dencity 2017: Special Mention


Entry by: Wenjie Zheng, Suk Lee, Praveen Kumar Bhardwaj, David Matto-Rivero


Peru, the third largest country in South America, is divided into three regions: the coast, the highlands, and the jungle. This simple division captures the rich variety of Peru’s ecosystems but does not reveal the nation’s deeper socio-economic complexities. Most of its population has settled or migrated to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where the capital, Lima, is located. Over the past several decades, large migrations of people from the highlands and the jungle have filled Lima with people seeking safer places to live, jobs and education. Recent economic growth, concentrated in the capital, now affords many opportunities for the immigrants and their families. Much of Lima’s urban fabric now reflects the difficulty of providing enough affordable housing to accommodate the metropolitan region’s constant increase in population. The edges of the city and pockets of its older neighborhoods are dense areas of informal construction, many lacking public spaces, basic services and infrastructure.

Alto Peru is a neighborhood located in the district of Chorrillos, 17 km away from the historical center of Lima. It is in close proximity to a more affluent oceanfront area and the juxtaposition of income levels is very visible. This neighborhood has a history of rapid informal growth and construction on steep sites and on lots that contain ruins of historic buildings. The neighborhood is an unsafe, dense environment that lacks quality community spaces. However, the neighborhood has strong social and cultural bonds. For the residents of Alto Peru, the streets are the only public spaces. The streets in this neighborhood have constant traffic, are very narrow, and are often filled with trash spread around by many roaming dogs. The lack of quality public space in Alto Peru, is the primary issue that our proposal for intervention addresses.

The Concept

This This proposal offers ideas for constructing safe action spaces where the community could gather. It is our fundamental assumption that a healthy community should have spaces for engagement and exchange among neighbors and where strong bonds can be maintained. Our recent analysis of the urban context of Alto Peru and the information gathered from field research provides us with the basis for this proposal to build a better community. As we analyzed Alto Peru, a particular phenomenon was identified: many of the concrete columns of the houses in Alto Peru were exposed and unfinished, waiting for future vertical expansion. We believe this pattern creates the potential to create different action spaces on top of the neighborhood. These elevated community spaces would supplement the streets and create additional gathering spaces that are more flexible and could support a range of uses not possible or safe at ground level.

Design Phases

Phase One: Individual members of the community allow construction of a superstructure over their private roofs. These individuals will continue to control access to their private rooftops, but these rooftops will have stairs to the community level. Access to this space will be negotiated by the individual property owner and the community. Funding for the first phase of the system of intervention draws on the government’s recently increased commitment to public investment projects such as this proposal and design expertise offered through Alto Peru Surf, a local NGO.

Phase Two: The community works together to define specific uses for the platforms, which will require them to build consensus and learn from each other. These action spaces can be renegotiating as the community grows and changes. Funding for the materials for this phase is the responsibility of the community, with design and construction assistance available through Alto Peru Surf.

Phase Three: Future expansion and transformation of the elevated action spaces is inevitable as the neighborhood grows and individual property owners add on to their houses. If the We expect the evolution of the rooftop topography into an interlaced landscape of community spaces at various heights that range from 1 to 4 floors, with intermediate levels and access points in between. If the proposal earns support in the community, funding for this final and perpetual phase of development will be community-generated.


This proposal for developing much needed open space in one of Lima’s informal neighborhoods hopes to introduce a pattern of elevated action spaces that can be appropriated and replicated by the neighborhood as the community evolves over time. The concept is applicable in other similar neighborhoods in Lima, including those newer settlements on the city’s periphery. While the proposal is derived from research in a particular neighborhood in Lima, most of the self-built parts of the city have created, or are creating, a similar urban fabric. In other cities around the world where dense, self-built settlement patterns make up large segments of the built environment, the lack of open space is also an issue and the streets often create inadequate places for community activities. Elevated action spaces, tailored to local tectonic practices, could address this issue worldwide.

About the entrants

Wenjie Zheng was born in a small city in southern China. In a very young age his family migrated to United States. Even though he got engaged in the modernism, he was still very interested in traditional Chinese architecture. Through his four years as a student at Iowa State University, he thinks that buildings can provide happiness and relief to people. This semester when he went on a study abroad to Peru, he realized how his passion for buildings could be transformed into spaces which the people of Alto Peru can use and decrease the density there.

Suk Lee is a fourth-year architecture student at Iowa State University. Originally from South Korea, he has been on many study abroad trips around the world. From his backgrounds, he learned a wide and opened international perspectives that help him to design and understand the new and different regions. He traveled a lot Asia, Africa, North and South America and Europe and experience the local lives and cultures more than just sightseeing the landmarks. Recently, he is more interested in the informal settlement after his Rwanda-Academic trip, he tries to convince himself that architecture design and can change the worlds in the informal settlements.

Praveen Kumar Bhardwaj is a senior in Architecture at Iowa State University from India. Growing up around old, historical monuments sparked his interest in architecture. Coming from Bhopal, a city which faced one of the worst industrial disaster in the last century, he has had firsthand experienced with people forming unauthorized settlements which result in disaster because of the lack of planning and
infrastructure. He wishes to combine these experiences to his studies in architecture to create architecture which directly relate to the site and work on the given condition instead of razing everything off. With this project he tries to do the same with Alto Peru, where he and his group did a design build project this semester.

David Matto-Rivero is a senior in Architecture at Iowa State University. Originally from Cuzco, Peru, he is interested in the way architecture could address the issues of societies. He has been around South America, and has experienced the different cultures, and complexities of diverse societies in South America. The recent project has helped him to understand the complexity of his country, and how can architecture serve as a tool to make settlements a better place to live before it is too late. He thinks that architecture could intervene for the good of the people. Also he plans to go back home to help, and serve as a guide for future authorities.